Monday, May 07, 2012

Why publishers are being disintermediated

Here are two recent stories that help demonstrate why traditional publishers are being left behind and left out.

A few weeks ago, the managing director at a book publishing company called to say they would be interested in republishing my book Goal Play!  They said they were really impressed with it and the reception it was getting in the marketplace.  They indicated, though, that they would want to change the focus of the book, perhaps change the title, and likely redesign the cover.  In addition, they offered royalties that were well less than 20% of what I receive from self-publishing the book.  They emphasized that they would still expect me to continue to handle most of the publicity and marketing for the book.

No thanks.

More recently, an intermediary informed me that a major metropolitan newspaper had expressed interest in reprinting my most recent blog post as an op-ed.  I replied, "Sure, if we can keep the meaning within their editorial requirements.  I usually don't do op-eds any more because newspapers often edit things without permission, and they also attach headlines that are not on point, so I'd like to be sure that I have final rights on whatever is to be printed."

The response from an editorial page editor at the newspaper:  "No, we have to edit stuff sometimes and run our own headlines. We have to do that to get out 14 pages a week. It would be chaos if we didn't reserve that right."

No thanks.

Can you now understand why traditional publishers are being disintermediated by the electronic media?  Their view that they must control all aspects of what they publish is a throw-back to an earlier era.  The publishers do not appear to understand how to live, thrive, and participate in the democratization of the marketplace that has resulted from social media.  While they can still bring value to that marketplace, they run the risk of squashing creativity and market entry by new authors, maybe because of their undue concern that they -- rather than the authors -- will be judged by what is published.  Golly, they remind me of doctors and hospitals who refuse to engage in a partnership with patients and families in the design and delivery of care!


Anonymous said...

Having done three book projects through a mid-sized publisher, I'l never use a "traditional" publisher again. I have author friends who work with the big major publishers and they feel the same way. Publishers are often abusive or disrespectful to the authors and the financial balance is based on the olden days when the author NEEDED a publisher because the publisher owned the printing press. Now, most everything is outsourced, so authors can hire the same caliber of contractors and then they are accountable to YOU. Publishers will let dates slip due to their overwork and bad process and think nothing of it. And, you're right, they'll make you figure out how to do the marketing. It's a failed broken industry that reminds me of the Big Three automakers in the 1980s. The publishers want to blame Amazon for all of their woes, but they refuse to look in the mirror at the mess they've made of their broken, dysfunctional industry.

Amy Romano said...

From Facebook:

Yeah, our publisher wanted us to shorten our book by 50% and give us a fraction of the royalties we'll get by DIY, while readily admitting they ha no marketing resources for our project. As you say, No Thanks!

Karen Martin said...

I very much appreciate your post and share your concerns. I've published two books with a small-to-mid-sized publisher and am in production with my third, which is with a major publisher. My experience with both publishers has ample room for improvement. In all three experiences, the process was far more painful than it needed to be, which could be solved with the application of some of the most basic Lean practices. I, and several other authors of Lean-related books, have offered to work with my publishers gratis and the offer has been rejected.

But here's the other side of the coin: publishers are often right. In other words, most authors don't have high levels of proficiency when it comes to book titles, book structure and organization. Even messaging is something that many authors don't have proficiency in. So while authors are experts with the content, publishers can be a trusted partner in packaging the content in a way that sells far better than we can do alone. And getting our content into as many hands as possible is the goal, right?

In my own case, my title has changed, my approach has changed, even my chapters have changed due to involvement with a major publisher. In several cases, they helped me get out of my own way. True, I could outsource this all. In fact, I retained my own editor at great expense to help me deliver the highest quality final manuscript I was capable of writing. It was money well spent. Could I have also spent money and time on book design, printing, and distribution, yes. Would my book sell as many copies? There's truly no way to know (a controlled study would be tough to pull off), but I'm banking on my net gain from writing will be better due to the volume sales I'll get through the sales channels that traditional publishers still have over self-publishing.

The other advantage as I see it is far more pragmatic. This was the first book I undertook where I needed to contact perfect strangers to research topics, ask for information and their perspective, etc. Being with a large publisher gave me instant street cred and opened doors that I don't believe I'd be able to open if I began my call with, "Hi. I'm self-publishing a book on..."

I like that we're at a place in publishing that offers authors many options. Authors who want to just get something out there finally can. Authors who want to control every aspect of the process can. Authors who want to give up some control to gain other benefits can. But back to your original point, major publishers DO labor under archaic processes that are in sore need of improvement. And there's much they could to to improve the way they engage with authors as the value-providing partners that they are. I long for the day when a major publisher says, "OK, we're ready to transform. Come help us do so." The future doesn't bode well for traditional publishers. And the longer they take to begin the transformation process, the greater the risk that they won't make it. But until that day, I'm still choosing to birth my babies at a major birthing center with all of its flaws rather than trying childbirth at home.

Anonymous said...

No thanks! That's for sure!
A friend recently had similar experience and they offered him through contract very small percentage but they also proclaimed them to literally do what ever they want with book..
Its obvious that only few of those old publishers will adapt their approach and how they do their and survive the changes on the market.

Anonymous said...

How I wish more of my friends who've been frustrated -- actually, make that heartbroken -- by traditional publishers would take the self-publishing plunge -- my own experience was that the value added was absolutely underwhelming, especially when you consider the value subtracted, like the insistence on a hokey title and cutesy cover...

Nancy Thomas said...

I just sent this to my author clients.....there is literally a revolution in the book publishing industry....sort of reminiscent of how social media took over how we receive our news....we now see no difference in a book being self-published vs. reviewed and accepted by a publishing house....leaving authors to do their own PR and leg work (nice work for publicists like me); and those who choose to go with a publishing house are STILL doing much of their own promotion....some publishing staff do not even do social marketing as they see that as a literary dummying down...which of course it is not today. It is the new norm in promoting your book, regardless of content. In terms of op ed's if you keep to the word count, you can avoid an editor's pen, especially if you have your signature to the article - what none of us can avoid is the headline writers - it's the cost of being published and the risk we take.

Mark Graban said...

Part of the broken business model:

- Traditional publisher offers the author 10-15% of the sales price as royalty payment
- That means if you sell through a retailer, the retailer takes 50% and the publisher takes the remaining 35-40% that doesn't go to the author. Doesn't that seem a bit out of balance?
- Kindle pays 70% royalty to self-publishing authors
- A new outfit called pays 90% -- and they pay monthly instead of holding payments for 3 to 6 months like publishers do

Bad process aside, the payment/royalty is seriously out of whack for this new era. Publishers NEED authors, not the other way around.

clsmt said...

What the publishers should do is offer you services on a consulting basis. Want editing help? We can provide package A, B, or C with different levels of support and the price that comes with that. What help with cover design? Our experts will give you all the advice you need at a price of $X.XX. Marketing? We have three different packages for that as well. This would make traditional publishers competitive with self publishing sites like lulu and others and still allow them to recover revenue from some of the in-house staff they already have.

Paul Levy said...

Yes, and if you note, that is exactly what the self-publishers -- like CreateSpace -- now do. I think the problem the traditional publishers have, though, is huge levels of fixed overhead. The new folks seem more lean and nimble.